With schools closed until at least April 6 because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, the Ohio High School Athletic Association has canceled the remaining winter sports tournaments.
OHSAA executive director Jerry Snodgrass emailed the news March 26 to “OHSAA Wrestling School Principals.” A central Ohio coach shared the email with ThisWeek.
“While I would like to have made a phone call to each of you, with over 300 schools having wrestlers who qualified for the State Wrestling Tournament, the only possible way to communicate this is through this email. I feel this is the most efficient way to notify each of you prior to hearing anything in the media," Snodgrass wrote.
“After our staff has met daily and looked at any and all potential feasible options, and due to the great number of uncertainties related to venue availability, I am informing all remaining winter sport tournament participants that the remaining winter sport tournaments are now canceled. However, the guidance and recommendations from Governor DeWine and the Director of the Ohio Dept. of Health remain at the forefront of all decisions.”
Prep sports had been in a holding pattern since March 12, when Snodgrass indefinitely postponed the girls basketball, hockey and wrestling state tournaments and the boys basketball regional tournament.
Westerville North junior wrestler Jake Gooding, a Division I state qualifier at 120 pounds, took the cancellation of those tournaments in stride.
"This whole thing really sucks but you have to put it in perspective," he said. "People’s lives are at stake. One thing that I learned is that every match matters. As much as it hurts, I want this to motivate me and push me in the offseason because next year is my last chance."
Columbus Academy wrestling coach Paul Bukky said he was "not surprised" by the decision. Academy sophomore Gyvnn Mendenhall was set to compete at 195 in the Division III state tournament.
"About the only thing they could have done is to use three different venues for each division," Bukky said. "It just didn’t seem prudent to me to expect someone to wrestle at full performance after not working out. I think it’s a wise decision that they probably should have been made at the beginning."
Thomas Worthington boys basketball player Jalen Sullinger, whose team captured its first district title since 2001 and was still alive in the Division I regional tournament, said he felt bad for his senior teammates.
“We really wanted to see how far we can take it, and I feel bad for (the seniors) having to walk out like this,” said Sullinger, a junior point guard. “It’s a good way to walk out (having won a district title), but I think it could have been better for them.”
Hilliard Darby junior wrestler Bradley Weaver, who qualified for the state tournament for the first time and won the Division I district title at heavyweight, was disappointed he wouldn’t have the chance to compete.
“It’s pretty frustrating for me, knowing I’ve been looking forward to this moment, not only at the beginning of this year but the beginning of freshman year,” he said. “It’s kind of heartbreaking, but that’s something I can’t control.”
DeSales boys basketball standout Desmond Watson, the Division II district Player of the Year, wasn’t surprised by the news. The Stallions were hoping to get a chance to play in the regional tournament.
"I expected it. I just feel like (the OHSAA) didn't want to hurt anybody's feelings, but I was still praying we'd get a chance,” said Watson, a junior. "It just stinks (because of) how much work we put in in the offseason, what our team had in mind and what we'd already accomplished. It's tough knowing it had to come to an end because of this sickness."
The New Albany wrestling program had its first state qualifier since 2011 in senior Michael Zusman, who would have competed at 145 in Division I.
"I kind of figured they'd go this route, so it's no surprise it happened. I just feel sad for the guys who made it. It's rough for them,” coach Larry Reichard said. "I hadn't talked to Michael too much about it. I just wanted to help him out getting ready for state any way I could.
"The kids love the sport and wanted the chance to represent their schools, but I still figured the season was done and Michael's career was over."
In a press release March 26, the OHSAA said no 2020 state champions will be listed for boys basketball, girls basketball, hockey and wrestling. The OHSAA does not use media or coaches polls to determine state champions.
The four tournaments and a few events during World War II are the only sports cancellations in the history of the OHSAA, the release said. The OHSAA was founded in 1907.
“We are just devastated that the tournaments cannot be completed,” Snodgrass said in the release. “But our priority is the safety of our student-athletes, coaches, communities and officials. Governor Mike DeWine is asking all Ohioans to do everything they can to stop the spread of this virus. That request, along with our schools not being able to reopen for weeks, means that school sports cannot happen at this time. Even if our schools reopen this spring, it will be difficult to find facilities willing to host the tournaments. Most (college campuses) are shut down until mid to late summer.
“We are already planning for ways that these student-athletes will be honored at next year’s state tournament.”
After Snodgrass' March 12 announcement, the OHSAA provided a pair of updates. On March 13, the OHSAA implemented a mandatory “no-contact” period from March 17 through April 5 for spring athletes and coaches but did not cancel the remainder of the winter postseason.
Snodgrass gave another update during a press conference March 19, saying everything would remain on hold until April 6. That is when students are scheduled to return to the classroom, unless Gov. Mike DeWine extends the three-week closure of Ohio schools.
However, Snodgrass cautioned during the press conference that “the window of opportunity for our winter tournaments is closing rapidly” and that spring sports faced the possibility of cancellation.
Read Snodgrass' full email from March 26:
“While I would like to have made a phone call to each of you, with over 300 schools having wrestlers who qualified for the State Wrestling Tournament, the only possible way to communicate this is through this email. I feel this is the most efficient way to notify each of you prior to hearing anything in the media.
“After our staff has met daily and looked at any and all potential feasible options, and due to the great number of uncertainties related to venue availability, I am informing all remaining winter sport tournament participants that the remaining winter sport tournaments are now canceled. However, the guidance and recommendations from Governor DeWine and the Director of the Ohio Dept. of Health remain at the forefront of all decisions.
“The great deal of ‘unknowns’ along with the logistical challenges make the option of rescheduling impossible. Additionally, given the nature of wrestling, it is an unreasonable expectation to ask athletes to maintain weight controls for an unknown amount of time. Weight control is only one of many logistical issues that this sport and tournament present in these uncertain times of health, safety, and social distancing.
“I speak for our entire staff that are unspeakably disappointed for our student-athletes, coaches, and parents who have worked so hard to earn the opportunity to participate in this event. Tyler Brooks, our wrestling sport administrator, will also be reaching out to communicate with the head wrestling coaches in our schools.
“In the weeks ahead, we will be mailing the complimentary State programs, gold certificates of participation, and weigh-in cards to the schools of state-qualifiers. Simply due to our staff teleworking through this crisis, there is no exact timeline, but information will be shared with you as soon as possible. We will also have additional programs for sale, and I will again share the information on that process once it has been established, as there will undoubtedly be a high number of requests from the wrestling community.
“Thank you for your understanding and cooperation dealing with this most difficult decision. Best wishes for health and safety of your student-athletes, school community, and families!”